The shocking effect of Gove’s EMA axe: Youngsters skipping food to get to college

Young people are having to choose whether to eat or travel to college thanks to the government’s “disastrous” decision to axe education maintenance allowance.


Sally Hunt is the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU)

Young people are having to choose whether to eat or travel to college thanks to the government’s “disastrous” decision to axe the education maintenance allowance, according to a report (pdf) released today by the children’s charity Barnardo’s.

The report not only criticises the government’s decision to axe the weekly grant – worth around £30 a week to the poorest students – but also describes the EMA’s replacement as insufficient to meet students’ needs.

It is shocking that youngsters have to skip meals to get to college. Lecturers want to be encouraging students to maximise their potential and they need to at least be fed when they turn up for class.

Sadly, the findings of today’s report do not come as much of a shock to those of us who led the vociferous campaign against the removal of EMA. We have argued from the start the government’s drive to cut EMA was an ideological move backed up by spurious evidence with absolutely no regard for the policy’s likely impact.

We produced a number of reports at the time that highlighted just how vital the money was for students. However, the government opted to cherry-pick its evidence from a survey that included hardly any students who actually depended on the EMA.

While we questioned how a cabinet of millionaires could have any understanding of the difference a few pounds a week makes to the poorest in society, the education secretary, Michael Gove, axed the grant, despite not having visited a single further education college.

Embarrassingly, but not surprisingly, the government’s evidence was later discredited by the man the government frequently cited to call the EMA a “deadweight cost”. Giving evidence to the education select committee in the summer, Mr Spielhofer said he was not happy with the concept that EMA had a deadweight cost of 88%.

He was also unhappy the axing of EMA had been based on his research and said ministers should have paid closer attention to other evidence, including work by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which showed that EMA paid for itself. The select committee described the axing of the EMA as rushed and ill-though through.

After failing to listen to the evidence when axing EMA, the least the government can do now is take note of today’s findings and provide the financial support required to give the poorest teenagers a fair crack at an education. There is no benefit in consigning them to the ever-increasing number of young people on the dole queue.

See also:

Five reasons Clegg can’t stand on his social mobility recordAlex Hern, January 12th 2012

The devastating crisis hitting Britain’s young peopleRory Weal, November 9th 2011

Fees, cuts… Is this what Cameron means by “giving young people back their future”?Shamik Das, September 14th 2011

It’s now official: The government lied when scrapping EMAJames Mills, June 9th 2011

EMA replacement could breach equality law according to governmentJames Mills, May 5th 2011

EMA replacement doesn’t make the gradeJames Mills, March 31st 2011

Gove’s justification for axing EMA doesn’t add upJonathan Clifton, March 30th 2011

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